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Great Lakes: Regional conference on small arms proliferation underway

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NAIROBI, 13 March (IRIN) - A four-day regional conference on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region opened in Nairobi on Sunday.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Bonaya Godana told delegates during the opening session that illicit arms trade was believed to account for roughly half the total volume of international transfers in small arms and light weapons. "Given that the Great Lakes region and Horn of Africa are the most politically volatile regions in Africa, we can safely assume that the bulk of these arms are in this region," he said.

Godana said the "excessive and destabilising" accumulation and transfer of small arms and light weapons had resulted in increased incidences of internal conflicts, high levels of crime, violence and insecurity.

A recent UN finding noted that the manufacturers, suppliers and buyers of the weapons rarely had a say in the ultimate use of these arms "which keep changing hands within and among societies exposed to intra-state violence".

"Small arms are cheap, portable, easy to conceal and readily available," Godana observed. "Moreover, they require low maintenance and little training to operate." He said the weapons "filter far beyond armies and police forces to irresponsible groups, criminal organisations, private security forces, vigilante squads and individual citizens".

Godana pointed out that other factors which led to the proliferation of small arms in the region included the commercial interests of manufacturers, financiers and suppliers, uncertain prospects for employment among young people, and poverty.

The conference, which includes regional foreign ministers, UN representatives and diplomats, is expected to continue until Wednesday.

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